A week after a ceasefire brought an end to 11 days of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces is reportedly preparing for the next round of fighting, with senior army officials said concerned an escalation from the Gaza-based terror group could come at any time.
Channel 13 news said that senior defense officials had described the ceasefire as “very unstable.”
The warning came as Hamas displayed some of its weaponry at a victory parade in Khan Younis, southern Gaza.
While Israel’s political echelon has all but declared victory in Operation Guardian of the Walls, senior IDF officials have argued that at this stage it is impossible to determine how much Hamas had been deterred from future attacks and how the damage in the Gaza Strip would affect its decision to launch another campaign soon.
On Thursday IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said the fighting between the military and Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group ended decisively to Israel’s advantage.
“The balance of accomplishments ended in a clear advantage for the IDF, and Hamas, which started a war as the alleged defender of Jerusalem, finished it as the destroyer of Gaza,” Kohavi said in a speech to graduates of the military’s war college.
He touted Israel’s “many achievements” in the campaign versus the “limited” military achievements of Hamas, most of which he said were psychological.
At the same time, he added that the IDF was drawing lessons from the fighting and “we are already preparing for the next campaign.”
Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas on Thursday held a military parade to celebrate the “victory,” in which the group displayed various weapons systems used in the fighting against Israel.
The parade, which drew a large crowd of supporters, took place in Khan Younis, in the south of the Strip.
Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar had his photo taken on a couch in his bombed offices.
Egypt has invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for separate talks that aim at consolidating the ceasefire, an Egyptian intelligence official said Thursday. The talks would also focus on accelerating the reconstruction process in Gaza.
“We are seeking a long-term truce, that would enable further discussions and possibly direct talks,” said the official, who had close knowledge of the proceedings that had led to the ceasefire and who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t allowed to brief reporters.
On Wednesday Kan news reported that Israel would demand such talks include discussions of the return of Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas for nearly seven years.
IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed in the summer 2014 war with Hamas, while civilian Avera Mengistu was captured after he entered Gaza of his own accord in the same year. Mengistu reportedly suffers from mental health issues. Hisham al-Sayed, a second civilian, entered the Strip in 2015 and has been held there since then.
According to the report, an unnamed Egyptian military official traveled to Israel last week to discuss the initiative but no date for the proposed summit has been set. Kan further reported that Israel set two conditions for its agreement to attend: that the talks with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority be held separately, and that each step in the Gaza reconstruction process be tied to the advancement of the return of the captives.
Though the IDF claims that it dealt a serious blow to Hamas’s military capabilities and undermined its core strategies by attacking its underground tunnel network inside the Gaza Strip, it acknowledges that the terror group still has thousands of rockets in its arsenals and could easily decide to use them again.
Shortly before the ceasefire went into effect, the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, said the conflict would be considered a success for Israel if it brought about five years of calm in Gaza.
But intelligence officials on Wednesday clarified that this was not an estimate for how long the ceasefire would hold, just a bar for assessing the outcome of the campaign, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls.
Hamas’s leaders have claimed victory in the conflict as they seek to establish a narrative to explain the fighting to their people, and they can be justified in doing so, having accomplished many of the goals the terror group set for itself.
Throughout the fighting, the terror group defined itself as a protector of Jerusalem — launching the initial barrage of rockets at the capital in response to violent clashes between Muslim protesters and Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount — it also managed to exacerbate growing rifts between Jewish and Arab Israelis, inspire attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank, garner international attention for the Palestinian cause, and kill 11 civilians in Israel.
The cost to Hamas was high: During the conflict, Israel killed a number of top operatives, including several key members of its research-and-development wing, and conducted strikes on some three dozen rocket production facilities, which will make it much more difficult for the terror group to replenish its arsenals. The IDF also intercepted every drone — both unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous submarines — that Hamas launched, as well as several on the ground before they could be deployed.
And, perhaps most significantly, the Israeli military destroyed upwards of 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Hamas tunnels in the Gaza Strip, which Israel dubbed “the metro.” This rendered unusable large swaths of the terror group’s subterranean infrastructure — roughly a third of it, according to IDF assessments — and, more importantly, demonstrated to Hamas’s operatives that they were vulnerable to attack in their underground bunkers.
Now Hamas has to determine if the considerable price it paid for those achievements was worth it or if it won a pyrrhic victory. This will only become clear in the coming months and years, according to IDF assessments.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.